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Temporal Semantics [revised]

From:Rhialto <rhialto@...>
Date:Friday, February 19, 1999, 1:18
comments on this project broadly welcomed.

Temporaral Semantics
initial draft 16/2/99
revised 19/2/99

The purpose of this artificial grammar is to divorce the verb from all trace
of tense/aspect inflection. Phrase order in this artificial grammar will be:

[Time] [Subject] [Verb] [Object]

The default tense will be present tense, indicated by having no time phrase
in the sentence. In the present tense, there is no difference between
perfect and imperfect aspects, as these are semantically meaningless in the
present -- "I am eating" and "I eat", while they mean different things, the
contrast is non-habitual/habitual rather than imperfect/perfect (both forms
are indicative). The present tense is inherently imperfect aspect, as
demonstrated by Russian.

nb: I regard "I have eaten" as being past perfect. "I had eaten" is
therefore past pluperfect.

The time clause consists of three parts. All parts are optional, but the
past/future marker must be present if any other parts are present.

[past/future] [perfect and/or imperfect marker(s)]

A maximum of two consucutive (as shown above) perfect/imperfect markers may
appear in a single clause. So, possible permutations are (P=perfect,
I=imperfect): P, I, PI, IP, PP, II. The doubled markers can, in addition,
take a single marker of the opposite type immediately before or after, for a
total of three time markers plus past/future marker.


past/future marker -- This is a simple flag with 2 possible values. The
default meaning without the next two flags is for the perfect aspect.

past I eat = I have eaten, I ate
fut I eat = i will eat

nb: "I will have eaten" is a construction that only genuinely occurs in
compound sentences in english. It will be replaced by a conjunction that can
be glossed as meaning 'by then/at that time'. This conjunction requires a
supporting time marker.

when john arrive, by-then past i eat
When John arrives, I will have eaten

*when john arrive, by-then i eat
*When John arrives, I eat

when john arrive, by-then fut i eat
When John arrives, I will eat

when john arrive, by-then fut for-while i eat
When John arrives, I will be eating


perfect time marker -- This is equivalent to the following phrases in
English. Note that while English marks some perfect time markers differently
depending on the tense, no such distinction is necessary in this grammar.
Also note that some time markers are named rather than numbered moments,
such as Wednesday or November. These are essentially 'proper times', just as
some nouns are 'proper nouns'. Also, some times are deictic, and change
their value depending on context. examples include 'yesterday'.

Note that these perfect/imperfect time markers, while they have a
relationship with verbal perfect/imperfect aspects, are a separate concept.
A sentence with a perfect time marker indicates that an event happened at a
single conceptual point in time. Note that a concetual point in time can be
quite long - 'the fifteenth century' is one example of a perfect time

Also note that there can be two perfect markers, in which case the nuance
changes from 'at' to 'between X and Y'. See the final section.

In 5 hours time / 5 hours ago
over Christmas time
(Note how ambiguity is avoided by the tense marker, so no need to specify
next or last xxx-day to avoid ambiguity)
on his birthday
yesterday  tomorrow
  (this would literally be 'one day away', tense being already defined)
at the end / in the beginning
  (this is a superlative, and so cannot take an imperfect marker)
next (aka after that)
before that
(these two presuppose a previous sentence for context)
the fifteenth century


imperfect time marker -- This is equivalent to the following kinds of
phrases in English, all of which are always preceded by 'for', and never
include 'proper times'.

for 5 hours
for a few days
for a while (generic imperfect aspect marker)


perfect - imperfect combinations

perfect - imperfect
I will/did verb starting-on-perfect-moment for-imperfect-time

This is the most common combination that is found in normal English. Note
that if the imperfect time is of a shorter duration than the perfect moment
('on tuesday for five hours'), it can generally be assumed that the entire
duration was completed within that perfect moment. Likewise, if the
imperfect duration is on teh same or a higher order of magnitude compared to
the perfect moment, the duration is assumed to start at the end, or at
least, extend beyond, the perfect moment.

imperfect - perfect
I will/did verb for-imperfect-time finishing-at-perfect-moment

This form is remarkable only in that the imperfect time is usually on the
same order of magnitude (days, hours, etc) as the perfect moment.


Paired perfect markers
perfect - perfect - [imperfect]
[imperfect] - perfect - perfect

This marker only appears in pairs. It is indefinite in that the exact moment
specified is not as clearly defined as in the original time markers. The
moment of the event is an unknown point between two definite perfect times,
rather than being a known perfect time in its own right.

between-now and-wednesday

This is equivalent to 'by wednesday'. Unlike English, the first half of this
clause cannot be omitted, as that would change the meaning to 'at
wednesday'. This is an indefinite perfect time marker, as it is happening at
an undefined moment marked by two 'perfect' moments. While the two halves
are marked by different headwords in teh english gloss, there is no reason
they cannot have identical particles to identify them in the artificial
language. The only requirement is that this particle be different from the
particle marking inmperfect durations.

fut between-friday and-sunday for-two-hours i tidy house
I will tidy up the house for a couple of hours sometime between friday and

fut between-now and-next-week i go london
I will go to london by next week (sometime between now and next week).


paired imperfect markers
imperfect - imperfect - [perfect]
[perfect] - imperfect - imperfect

This indicates a duration of uncertain length, but expected to be between
the two durations specified in the imperfect markers.

fut for-2-hours for-three-hours they arrive
They will arrive in two or three hours.

This pair can be combined with a single perfect marker in the normal way.
The last variant shown, although possible, is very unusual when glossed into

past on-tuesday for-2-hours for-3-hours he play golf
He played (was playing) gold for a couple (two or three) hours last tuesday.

fut on-friday for-1-week for-2-week i go on holiday
i will go on holiday on friday for a week or two.

fut for-1-month for-2-month in-decemeber she diet
She will be dieting for a month or two, finishing in december.

Do colourless green ideas frantically dream of electric sheep?